POOR Oscar Fernandez Taranco, he thought our political leaders were like those everywhere in the democratic world, sensitive to what the people want. He was unaware of our political culture of ‘party before the country, and of course, leader before the party.’ It took him five days of hard labour, constant shuttling from pillar to post and endless cajoling to find out the hard way that ours was a much harder “political nut” to crack.
He was sincere, earnest and full of energy with of course his disarming smile all along. But this veteran of many negotiations never faced a bunch of political leaders so myopic, shortsighted and self-defeating.
The UN Special Envoy’s biggest ‘success’ (for this word can only be used within inverted commas) has been that he was able to make the second tier leaders of AL and BNP sit together across the table. Considering the fact that this has never happened in the last two decades one can credit Mr. Taranco with performing a miracle of sorts. But as the saying goes: “You can bring the camel to the water but you cannot force it to drink.” You may somehow persuade our leaders — and it takes the likes of the UN to do that — to sit face to face but you cannot force them to talk sense.
That is exactly what had happened. They met, they regurgitated their hackneyed stances, they accused each other of weakening democracy, and then they left — not forgetting to thank the hosts profusely — promising to meet again, we have no doubt, to do the same again.
We want to shame our politicians by reminding them that 300 killed in the last few months, continuous, painful and heart rending deaths of burn victims, destructive hartals and crores of takas worth of property destruction did not motivate them to sit for talks. Persuasion of the UN did. Now that the UN Envoy has left, where are the talks going to head? Is there any chance of an understanding?
As we understand, the talks are stalled where they have been ever since 2011. The AL wants to hold the election under their leader’s government, while BNP wants it under the, now abolished, CTG. AL is unwilling to re-amend the constitution to bring the CTG back and the BNP is unwilling to trust the incumbent to hold a free and fair election.
As far as we can understand AL is bent on going forward with the election regardless whether BNP comes to the election or not.
The plan appears to be that the election process itself will put severe strain on BNP as a party as many local leaders, given AL’s unpopularity, felt confident of winning. These local leaders differed with the central leadership on the decision to boycott and believe that giving a walkover to the AL constitutes a blunder. These leaders are very unhappy and, AL feels, will lose interest once the election is held. Some of them may even be persuaded to shift allegiance when the new government comes into place. The majority will lose interest or cease to be active, AL believes.
If, however, the BNP is able to weather this storm and maintain its unity then the new government — with however tenuous and controversial a mandate — will be able to force forward its activities even if there is resistance from the opposition.
Here AL’s calculation is that the legitimacy of the elections and the full force of state power will see them through. In case the opposition is able to mount a serious threat then the government will go for a snap election after a period, hopefully two years. By then, the AL logic is, the government will be able to implement many useful and popular projects, and also the present memories of its failure will become distant, which will give them a special edge in the snap polls.
Contrarily, the BNP is well aware of all this and, as can be expected, hell bent to spoil this game plan of the ruling party. BNP and Jamaat are determined not to allow the AL to hold the elections. They have already indulged in the most violent, cruel and destructive political agitation that Bangladesh has rarely seen. It is now expected that they will up the ante and push things towards further destructive confrontation.
Given this background, it is no wonder the UN brokered talks went the way it did. We have been told that both sides have agreed to continue the dialogue which is unlikely to produce any breakthrough.
Thus these two parties are now set for a massive showdown which is likely to be a no-holds barred contest of street power, which is most likely to further disrupt normal life and cause greater damage to the economy.
Both parties still don’t seem to be fully aware of the cost of the political unrest. People dying, getting burnt alive, children being killed, shops being destroyed — all seem to have become a part of a game being played by the two sides.
However, what is not being fully understood is the cost to the economy. One needs only to talk to any serious businessman to find out the state of our economy, the threats it is confronting and risk of losing markets that we are encountering — all of which are grave.
So while we have may have fooled Mr. Taranco and played the “Dialogue-Dialogue” game with him, we have actually fooled ourselves in not recognising the real, present and serious danger that the country is facing.
The writer is Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star.